Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Saturday, 20 February 2010

Obituary: Alexander Haig

Former Presidential Secretary of State Alexander Haig
Gen Haig had ambitions for the highest US office

American soldier-statesman Alexander Haig, who died on 20 February 2010, aged 85, served three US presidents and had presidential ambitions of his own.

He was President Reagan's secretary of state for a time, chief of staff in the Nixon White House during the Watergate scandal and also served briefly under Gerald Ford.

A decorated hero in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, he rose to the rank of general before continuing the fight via the conservative politics of the Republican party of the 1970s and 1980s.

Alexander Haig was born in Philadelphia in 1924. A devout Catholic, he spent a year at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana before joining the military academy at West Point.

Much of his army career was spent as a staff officer in the Pentagon, and on his return to Washington from Korea he studied for an MA in International Relations at Georgetown University.

In 1966-7 he served in Vietnam as an infantry battalion commander and eventually became senior adviser to the National Security Council, run then by Henry Kissinger.

Damage limitation

In 1970 Gen Haig was promoted to deputy assistant to President Richard Nixon.

He also toured China to pave the way for Mr Nixon's historic visit in 1972.

Alexander Haig and Richard Nixon
Alexander Haig was US President Richard Nixon's chief of staff

As head of the White House staff in the final months of President Nixon's administration, he was credited with saving the presidency from complete collapse over the Watergate scandal.

However, for many years, he was often mentioned as being "Deep Throat", the infamous Washington Post source who helped bring Mr Nixon down. Mark Felt, an FBI official broke his silence in 2005 to confirm he was in fact the source.

After a brief return to the military as Nato's supreme allied commander, Gen Haig was back in Washington in 1981 as Ronald Reagan's secretary of state.

Widely regarded as a hawk, he quickly courted controversy by suggesting the possible use of nuclear weapons as a warning to the Soviets.

"There are contingency plans in the Nato doctrine to fire a nuclear weapon for demonstrative purposes, to demonstrate to the other side that they are exceeding the limits of toleration in the conventional area, " he said.

His appointment by President Reagan was not a popular one.

There were many who believed that as one of the key figures in Richard Nixon's White House, he was inevitably linked in the public's mind with Watergate.

Falklands mediator

After Mr Reagan was shot in March 1981, Gen Haig made a gaffe he never lived down. Hours after the shooting, he declared in front of the cameras: "As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president."

The remarks were viewed as a crude power grab and used against him later on the campaign trail. A year later he was out of favour and out of office.

But by the beginning of 1982 his relations with the White House appeared to be on the mend.

Alexander Haig and Margaret Thatcher
Alexander Haig and Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands crisis

When the Falklands crisis arose he seized the chance to be a mediator between Britain and Argentina. His efforts proved to be in vain.

He abruptly resigned later in 1982, citing policy differences with the White House.

In 1988 he ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination but lost to George H W Bush, a loss that marked the end of his political career.

Of all his experiences, Gen Haig always insisted that nothing compared to having to command men in battle, not even Watergate.

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